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Lost In Beijing

By Eve M. Ferguson
Published August 25, 2008

Director Li Yu’s third feature has raised the most controversy recently, second only to Ang Lee’s tale of subterfuge and betrayal, Lust, Caution. With strict codes determining the rating system used by China’s Film Bureau, the film that tells an unwelcome story of life in Beijing was effectively killed due to the depiction of prostitution, rape, graphic sex and blackmail.

According to many Chinese film critics,  Lost In Beijing shows a side of Beijing that not only exists, but needs to be exposed as China moves towards the transparency needed to be a part of the global community. The story follows Liu Ping Guo (Fan Bingbing), a masseuse in one of Beijing’s all service massage parlors, and her window washer husband, An Kun (Tong Da Wei).

After getting drunk with a co-worker at the massage parlor, Liu finds herself raped by the boss, Lin Dong (Tony Leung Ka Fai), although in her inebriated state, she gives all indications that sex was what she expected. When An Kun learns of the rape and Liu’s subsequent pregnancy, he devises a simplistic blackmail scheme bolstered by his realization that the childless Lin would pay a considerable sum to keep the unborn baby. Adding another element of tawdriness, An Kun approaches Lin’s wife Wang Mei (Elaine Jin), who determines that he should have sex with her in order to exact revenge. The consensual sex soon develops into a full-fledged affair, and the two couples strike a deal which has An and Liu living as servants, while the wealthy but uncultured Lin and Wang raise the child.

While the sex scenes between all the major characters would hardly raise an eyebrow in the United States, in China these acts introduce the concept of flawed morality in a land that prides itself on a moral code and filial piety dating back to Confucius. In short, the powers-that-be in China would prefer that outsiders get a carefully tailored view of its people—a dictum clearly violated by the characters in Lost In Beijing. From an aesthetic standpoint, the film gets off to a slow start but builds to a disquieting crescendo in the end, the documentary-style camera work and lack of empathetic characterization proves to be riveting.